Climate Change and Subsistence in Prehistoric Japan

DATE: Saturday-Sunday, June 19-20, 2010

PLACE: 2223 Fulton Street, 6th floor

SPONSORS: Institute of East Asian Studies, Center for Japanese Studies, Department of Anthropology, Japan Society for the Promotion of Sciences



The impact of climate change on past peoples' lives is a topic of debate in the archaeology of different parts of the world. It is no exception in the study of the Jomon culture in Japan. Many Japanese scholars have suggested that the cooling climate at around 4300-4000 years ago resulted in a significant population decrease and a decline of large settlements at the end of the Middle Jomon period. Was climate change really the cause, or was it simply a trigger? How were the other factors, such as subsistence intensification, plant domestication and social stratification, related to the culture change? In addition to the climate change, should we also consider human impacts on the environment as a major factor for understanding human-environment interaction during the prehistoric period? Answering these questions is beneficial not only for the study of ancient societies but also to think about environmental issues with a long time scale. In this two day public event, scientists and archaeologists will discuss climate and subsistence change from such data as marine cores, pollen analyses, palaeoethnobotany, isotope studies, bioarchaeology, micromorphology and residue analyses. Results of our Institutional Project "Understanding Lifeways and Biocultural Diversity in Prehistoric Japan" will be used as a case study to link these lines of evidence with archaeological data. Comparative case studies will be discussed from other parts of Asia and the Pacific Rim.



Gary Crawford — Climate and Subsistence in the Southern Hokkaido Archaeological Record: The Search for Meaningful Patterns
Southern Hokkaido is ecologically similar to northern Tohoku and distinct from northern Hokkaido. The archaeological record from the Initial Jomon through Satsumon and Ainu periods suggests some cultural distinctions between the regions through time although the reasons for the differences are likely not solely the result of climate and vegetation. Therefore, some potential for exploring the relationship between climate change and culture, particularly subsistence pursuits, exists. In southern Hokkaido the Kuromatsunai Line marks the northern limit of the beech forest zone and the southern limit of spruce that characterizes the boreal forest zone. A transition zone is comprised of oak and other deciduous trees. The region is also the modern northern limit of the summer monsoon. The warm Kuroshio and cold Oyashio currents have significant impacts on local ecology too. However, other factors such as the marine transgression, anthropogenesis, technological innovations, and diffusion related to historical events near Hokkaido may have buffered, eliminated or even amplified climate change impacts.

Ben Fitzhugh — Kuril Island settlement history and climate change: was there a relationship?
Recent international and interdisciplinary research by the Kuril Biocomplexity Project has resulted in the first comprehensive archaeological settlement history for the Greater Kuril Island chain. These results provide insights into periods of greater and less intense human occupation, leading us to look for explanations for the apparent demographic patterns of fluorescence and near-abandonment. Natural variability in ecological conditions by climate, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis are among the factors that could have influenced human activity in the Kurils. This talk will explore these factors with particular focus on climate, and conclude both that climate was probably not the primary factor in the demographic patterns and also that a greater range of proxy data and climate modeling will be needed to fully explore the inter-relationship between settlement history and climate variability in the Kurils.

Carl Heron — Residue Analysis of Jomon Pottery
In the last 10-20 years significant methodological advances have taken place in molecular and isotopic analysis of trace organic substances or residues associated with pottery vessels. Successful applications to archaeological enquiries have been demonstrated in studies of the contents and use of vessels from diverse contexts, particularly in Europe. Apart from some preliminary forays in the 1980s into residue analysis of Jomon pottery, to date, very little systematic work has been undertaken.

This presentation will focus on the results of a pilot study of pottery vessels and charred deposits from recent excavations at Sannai Maruyama (Aomori Prefecture). The paper will explore the origin of the organic residues extracted from these samples and will evaluate their archaeological significance.

Junko Habu and Sabrina Agarwal — Preliminary Report of the Institutional Research Project, Understanding Lifeways and Biocultural Diversity in Prehistoric Japan
This presentation summarizes preliminary results of three aspects of our three-year institutional project, Understanding Lifeways and Biocultural Diversity in Prehistoric Japan: 1) collaborative field/lab research at the Sannai Maruyama No. 2 and No. 9 sites, 2) comparative studies within Aomori Prefecture, including the excavation of the Goshizawa Matsumori site and soil sampling at the Yamada site, and 3) bioarchaeological studies, with a focus on age and sex-related bone loss in the Jomon. Results of these studies are discussed in relation to climate change, anthropogenic modification of the environment, and changes in subsistence strategies sand foodways.

Junko Habu and Mark E. Hall — Climate Change and the Jomon Culture: A Perspective from Historical Ecology
As an example of early economies, data from the Jomon period (ca. 16,000-2,500 cal. B.P.) of the Japanese archipelago offer a unique opportunity to examine both short- and long-term changes in human-environment interaction. Scientists have suggested that climate changes, which affected vegetation and the availability of both terrestrial and marine resources, must have been closely linked with the changes in the Jomon culture. Scholars have also investigated the importance of human impacts on the Jomon landscape at the local or regional levels. Chronological resolution of these analyses has become a key issue in examining both climatic and archaeological data. Using data from Sannai Maruyama (Early to Middle Jomon; ca. 5900-4300 cal. B.P.) and its neighboring sites in Aomori, northern Japan, this presentation examines three factors that seem to have been closely related to the growth and decline of large Middle Jomon sites in this region: 1) climate change, 2) human impacts on the landscape, and 3) subsistence specialization. Through these discussions, it is suggested that the examination of the interrelation of these factors is indispensable to our understanding of the mechanisms of long-term culture change.

Liliana Janik and Simon Kaner — Metastable ecosystem of the Shinano River drainage
The relationship between human populations and the natural environment is often discussed in terms of the determining constraints the latter places on the behaviour of the former. Temporal processes are often described in a stadial fashion, environmental conditions being seen as changing from one stage or period to another, often referred to in terms of amelioration or deterioration. Archaeologists have identified a series of such environmental transitions in Japanese prehistory, notably postglacial warming during the Initial and Early Jomon associated with sea-level rises, and later Holocene cooling, associated with apparent shifts and postulated reductions in population between the Middle and Late Jomon.

The Shinano Project, a collaborative research project being undertaken by archaeologists based in Britain and central Japan, is investigating the development of landscapes along the Shinano and Chikuma Rivers, which comprise the longest drainage in the Japanese archipelago. Using a combination of methods, including the reconstruction of the occupational histories of a series of prehistoric settlements and their catchments, archaeobotanical sampling and soil micromorphological analysis, the project approaches the human-environment relationship in a different way. Investigating the development of these landscapes in terms of metastable ecosystems, defined as being in constant flux, the project is addressing the role of perception and the cultural categorisation of the environment in shaping Jomon strategies. In this approach, choice in regard to the diversity of resources available becomes more significant than the determining constraints of environmental conditions. This paper will outline the project and review some recent data from a series of Jomon sites in central Japan.

Hodaka Kawahata — Changes of environments and human activity at the Sannai-Maruyama ruins in Japan during the mid-Holocene Hypsithermal climatic interval
Sannai-Maruyama is one of the most famous and best-researched mid-Holocene (mid-Jomon) archaeological sites in Japan, because of a large community of people for a long period. Archaeological studies have shown that the Jomon people inhabited the Sannai-Maruyama site from 5.9 to 4.2 ± 0.1 cal kyr BP. However, a continuous record of the terrestrial and marine environments around the site has not been available. During the period when the community at the site prospered (between 5.9 and 4.2 ± 0.1 cal kyr BP), the terrestrial climate was relatively warm. The high relative abundance of pollen of both Castanea and Quercus subgen. Cyclobalanopsis supports the interpretation that the local climate was optimal for human habitation. The evidence suggests that at about 5.9 cal kyr BP, high productivity of marine resources such as fish and shellfish and a warm terrestrial climate led to the establishment of a human community at the Sannai-Maruyama site. Then, at about 4.1 ± 0.1 cal kyr BP, abrupt marine and terrestrial cooling, indicated by a decrease of about 2°C in the C37 alkenone SST and an increase in the pollen of taxa of cooler climates, led to a reduced terrestrial food supply, causing the people to abandon the site. The timing of the abandonment is consistent with the timing (around 4.0–4.3 cal kyr BP) of the decline of civilizations in north Mesopotamia and along the Yangtze River. These findings suggest that a temperature rise of ˜2°C in this century as a result of global warming could have a great impact on the human community and especially on agriculture, despite the advances of contemporary society.

Junko Kitagawa — Climate influence on Castanea and Aesculus trees as food sources: the case of Sannai-Maruyama site and Kamegaoka site
Jomon culture developed in deciduous broad-leaf forests after the termination of the last glacial period. People sought food in the forests. Chestnuts (Castanea crenata) and horse chestnuts (Aesculus turbinate) growing in deciduous broad-leaf forests were consumed as food during Jomon period — the evidence is the numerous archaeological sites yielding remains of these nuts.

It is believed that there was protection or cultivation of the nut trees. Evidence indicates that there was intensive utilization of these trees, but it needs to be noted that climate influenced their utilization due to cold tolerance. Under severely cold conditions in winter, winter buds of Castanea suffer frost damage. Consequently, the flowers do not bloom and nuts cannot be expected in autumn.

The Sannai-Maruyama site and the Kamegaoka site are located in Aomori Prefecture in the northernmost part of Honshu Island. Pollen analyses suggest that Castanea and Aesculus trees were protected or cultivated. However, oscillations in the percentages of Castanea and Aesculus pollen were observed. It might be caused by climatic deterioration.

The temperature during Jomon period was reconstructed quantitatively using pollen data from the two sites. It shows that chestnuts could not be consumed as food during cold periods, so the Jomon had to change their food to horse chestnuts.

D.H. Temple — Biological and cultural responses to climatic change in Late/Final Jomon period hunter-gatherers
This study explores the biological and cultural responses of Middle through Final Jomon period (5000-2300 BP) hunter-gatherers to climate change (ca. 4300 BP) using data derived from human dental and skeletal remains. Linear enamel defects (LEH) and leg length are used as indicators of stress, carious tooth frequencies are used to explain changes in diet, while brachial and crural (intralimb) indices are used to reconstruct thermoregulatory adaptation. Frequencies of LEH defects did not significantly differ between Middle and Late/Final Jomon people, though a significant decline in leg length is noted between the two groups. Late/Final Jomon people experienced precipitous increases in carious tooth frequencies. Declines in intralimb indices are observed between the Middle and Late/Final Jomon samples. On the basis of these changes, it is estimated that selection culled approximately 1.69 individuals per 100 people per generation for the brachial index and 1.53 individuals for the crural index. Effective population sizes required to reject drift at the .05 alpha-level are exceeded by paleodemographic estimates. Drift is rejected and phenotypic selection is tentatively accepted as a contributor to changes in intralimb indices. Overall, systemic stress prevalence did not differ following climatic changes, though reductions in leg length suggest that the severity of systemic stress experienced by Late/Final Jomon groups was exacerbated. Jomon people were, however, not passive participants in this stress patterning. Increased frequencies of carious teeth suggest dietary change following climatic cooling. Furthermore, the magnitude of change in intralimb indices combined with population density estimates suggests phenotypic selection associated with thermoregulation.

Minoru Yoneda — Temporal-spatial variation of Jomon subsistence: an isotopic perspective
The dietary reconstruction of prehistoric human populations in Japan was investigated by carbon and nitrogen isotopic ratios in bone collagen. Exploitation of marine resources including marine mammals was significant in only prehistoric Hokkaido, while populations in Tohoku and other regions on main islands were relied on the combination of terrestrial C3 ecosystem and marine fish. The results from Ryukyu Islands of southern Japan showed another type dietary habit based on shellfish and smaller fish from coral reefs. This regional variability of Jomon substance was clearly corresponding to the zoogeography, suggesting at least three different kinds of human adaptation strategies by Jomon people for the Holocene Japanese archipelago.

On the other hand, the temporal change of protein source during the Jomon period is not significant when we focus on a specific region. It seems that the tradition of Jomon continued from the Earliest to Latest Jomon and even in the following Yayoi period when people adopted the rice paddy agriculture. Hence, these unaltered traditions of ancient diet suggest that the acceptance of rice agriculture at the initial Yayoi period was not the reason, but the result of cultural differentiation in prehistoric Japan.


Saturday, June 19, 2010 - Public Symposium
Session 1: Climate Change and the Growth and Decline of the Jomon Culture

9:30-9:45 AM - Opening Remarks

9:45-10:15 AM
Junko Habu and Mark E. Hall — Climate Change and the Jomon Culture: A Perspective from Historical Ecology

10:15-10:45 AM
Hodaka KawahataChanges of environments and human activity at the Sannai-Maruyama ruins in Japan during the mid-Holocene Hypsithermal climatic interval

10:45-11:00 AM - Break

11:00-11:30 AM
Junko KitagawaClimate influence on Castanea and Aesculus trees as food sources: the case of Sannai-Maruyama site and Kamegaoka site

11:30-12:00 PM - Discussion

12:00-1:00 PM - Lunch Reception

Session 2: Food, Nutrition and Health of the Jomon People: Bioarchaeological Approaches

1:00-1:15 PM - Session Introduction

1:15-1:45 PM
Minoru YonedaTemporal-spatial variation of Jomon subsistence: An isotopic perspective

1:45-2:15 PM
Daniel TempleBiological and Cultural Responses to Climatic Change in Late/Final Jomon Period Hunter-Gatherers

2:15-2:30 PM - Discussion

2:30-2:45 PM - Break

Session 3: Climate Change and Subsistence in the North: Respectives from Hokkaido and the Kurils

2:45-3:00 PM - Session Introduction

3:00-3:30 PM
Gary CrawfordClimate and Subsistence in the Southern Hokkaido Archaeological Record: The Search for Meaningful Patterns

3:30-4:00 PM
Ben FitzhughKuril Island settlement history and climate change: was there a relationship?

4:00-4:30 PM - Discussion

Sunday, June 20, 2010 - Public Workshop

9:30-10:00 AM
Junko Habu and Sabrina Agarwal — Preliminary Report of the Institutional Research Project "Understanding Lifeways and Biocultural Diversity in Prehistoric Japan"

10:00-10:15 PM - Discussion

10:15-10:30 AM - Break

10:30-11:00 AM
Carl HeronResidue Analysis of Jomon Pottery

11:00-11:30 AM
Liliana Janik and Simon KanerMetastable ecosystem of the Shinano River drainage

11:30-12:00 PM - General Discussion

12:00-1:00 PM - Lunch Reception



Sabrina Agarwal, University of California, Berkeley

Gary Crawford, University of Toronto

Ben Fitzhugh, University of Washington

Junko Habu, University of California, Berkeley

Mark E. Hall, University of California, Berkeley

Carl Heron, University of Bradford

Liliana Janik, University of Cambridge

Simon Kaner, Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures, UK

Hodaka Kawahata, University of Tokyo

Junko Kitagawa, International Research Center for Japanese Studies

Daniel Temple, University of North Carolina at Wilmington

Minoru Yoneda, University of Tokyo



The symposium "Climate Change and Subsistence in Prehistoric Japan" will be held at the Institute of East Asian Studies in the 6th floor conference room, at 2223 Fulton Street. You will find IEAS in section D1 of this campus map.

Campus map
Directions to the Berkeley campus

If traveling by BART, exit the Richmond-Fremont line at the Berkeley station (not North Berkeley). When you leave the BART station, walk south down Shattuck Avenue to Kittredge Street (two or three blocks depending on which station exit you leave from) and turn left. Walk up Kittredge Street one block, and you will be at the Institute of East Asian Studies (2223 Fulton Street).

From Interstate 80

To reach the campus by car from Interstate 80, exit at the University Avenue off-ramp in Berkeley. Take University Avenue east (toward the hills) approximately two miles until you reach the campus. Turn right on Oxford. Oxford changes names to Fulton Street when you get to Fulton and Kittredge (which is the location of the Institute of East Asian Studies at 2223 Fulton Street).

From Highways 24/13

To reach the campus from Highways 24/13, exit 13 at Tunnel Road in Berkeley. Continue on Tunnel Road as it becomes Ashby. Turn right at College Avenue and drive approximately one mile north to Bancroft Way.

Directions to the campus are also available at visitors/ traveling.html


There are various public parking lots and facilities near campus and in downtown Berkeley. This list includes municipal and privately owned parking lots and garages open to the public. Please consult signs for hours and fees prior to entering the facilities.

More information is available on the UC Berkeley Parking and Transportation page.